A Potpourri of Madison Sites

Today’s post is 1800 words, 36 photos, an 8 minute read. Enjoy

Hi everyone,

This week I’ll take you on a tour of some sites in the Madison area. In late August, Friendship Force of Wisconsin-Madison hosted Ambassadors from Oita Japan and Tweed Valley Australia. During their week-long stay with hosts in the Madison area, we took them, sometimes as a group, and sometimes independently depending on the specific interests of the Ambassador. My Traveling Partner and I hosted an Ambassador from Tweed Valley, she was easy going and interested in experiencing what Madison had to offer. If you missed last week’s blog where this adventure began, click here.

International Crane Foundation

In my opinion, all visitors to the Madison area should stop at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) near Baraboo. Ok, it’s 50 miles north of Madison so not just around the corner, but to see the work the non-profit conservation work this organization is doing is worth the time and the price of admission (Adults $12.50, Seniors $10.00, Youth $6.00, Kids under 6 free).

The Crane Foundation is the brain child of two students that began at Cornell University in 1971. Ron Sauey and George Archibald, both who were passionate about cranes, had the brilliant idea to create an organization for the research and education on cranes with the goal of preserving the world’s 15 species of cranes. A couple of years later, they rented a farm near Baraboo, Wisconsin to realize their dream to study and protect cranes.

Today, the ICF has connections and programs around the world to preserve habitat, conduct research, and find solutions to the many threats to the crane species. According to their website, “about 125 staff and associates work with a network of hundreds of specialist in over 50 countries on five continents.” The three-hundred acre facility north of Baraboo is the home base for all this work. There are cranes on exhibit in large enclosures to educate the community on cranes and their habitat. An estimated 25,000 people visit the Crane Foundation every year.

It was a beautiful day with sunny skies and mild temperatures the morning of our visit. We had a tour that was led by a young woman near the end of her summer internship at ICF. She was very knowledgeable about the individual cranes (many had names) and their habitat, she knew the answers to our many questions as we walked through the exhibits. Some of the cranes were quite shy while others were interested in those that were peering into their enclosures. Below are a few photos I took during our tour and visit. Again, it’s a must see in my humble opinion.

Dells Boat Tours

The journey from the International Crane Foundation to the Dells Boat Tours in the Wisconsin Dells is less than 15 minutes depending on traffic. It was the waning days of summer and the water parks, Mt. Olympus and Noah’s Ark, were going full throttle.

Our group took the Upper Dells Tour on the Wisconsin River to see the high cliffs, rock formations, and hardest working river in Wisconsin. This river is over 400 miles long originating in the North Woods of Wisconsin and empties into the Mississippi River near Prairie du Chien.

Our two-hour afternoon ride made stops at Witches Gulch and Stand Rock where a dog leaps across a gap to Stand Rock. Below is what our tour boat looked like. The tour guide on our boat was quite interesting. He recently retired from singing opera, returned home to the Dells area, and began tour guiding as a summer job.

Witches Gulch is so named for the dark and mystical rock formations as well as the lush plants and trees that give it an eery look. We walked through the narrow gulch and found, not a pot of gold, but a restroom and a concession stand! Below some of our Japanese Ambassadors stop for a photo on the boardwalk.

Our second stop was at Stand Rock. After disembarking from the boat, we hiked on a path that took us to Stand Rock. In the early days of tourism in the Wisconsin Dells, Native Americans from the Ho-Chunk Nation staged dances for tourists and one member of their tribe would jump onto Stand Rock and back again. In modern times, dogs now make the leap. There’s a net to catch the dog if they miss. It doesn’t happen very often.

In this photo, the dog has jumped across and back again before I got the shot-off. A video would have been better. Note the dog and it’s handler on the right side of the photo.

While the boat tour is pleasant and relaxing, I prefer taking visitors for a ride on the Original Wisconsin Ducks. It’s a lot of fun and something that doesn’t happen just anywhere. Either way, a boat ride on the Wisconsin River is a pleasure.

Devil’s Lake State Park

For a couple of hours on a picture perfect afternoon, expect for the wind, was spent exploring Devil’s Lake State Park. I’ve written about Devil’s Lake before in great detail including the exhausting climb up the Balanced Rock Trail. After catching my breath, the view from up top took that breath away. This time I did a bit of walking giving my creaky joints a rest.

Devil’s Lake State Park covers nearly 10,000 acres including the namesake lake. It is the largest park in the state park system and the most visited with over 3 million visitors a year. There are two very popular campgrounds, over 30 miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, a swimming beach, all types of water sports, fishing, and rock climbing on the rock bluffs. There’s a lot to do and see plus there are a couple of concession stands for those needing a snack or two.

Our guests and some of their hosts walked on the one-mile Tumbled Rocks trails. I lounged at the shelter, while they were out and about, and took a few photos.

This was a first. You never know what you are going to see and who you’ll meet along the journey of life. This woman was taking her pet tortoise for a walk in the park. As I recall, her son rescued this turtle when it was very small, he and other exotic pets were abandoned by the tenants in an apartment in New York City. Mom took the little fella in over four years ago, he’s now much bigger and can live up to 50 years. He attracted a lot of attention but was more focused on get his steps in that day.

Wisconsin State Capitol

A visit to Madison isn’t complete without a tour of the Wisconsin State Capitol. The Capitol and the surrounding Capitol Square is often at the center of the Madison experience. The Saturday morning Dane County Farmer’s Market, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra Concerts on the Square, and many other activities are held in or near the Capitol.

Our group went on the tour that took us through the usual sites, the Assembly and Senate chambers, the Supreme Court, and the Governor’s Conference Room. Our guide explained the history, the architecture, and the art work located in the Capitol that was built in 1917 after fire destroyed the first Capitol building. Below are a few scenes from our tour. Our Japanese friends wore headphones in order to hear the interpreter.

At the conclusion of the tour, we took the elevator to the fourth floor and a couple of stairs to reach the exit to the observation deck. As we walked around, we could see the city before us. Even though I’ve been on the tour many times, I learn something new every time.

Chazen Museum of Art

We showed our guests a bit of the cultural aspects of Madison with a tour of the Chazen Museum of Art. This museum is located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It houses over 24,000 works of art and is known for the extensive collection of Japanese wood block prints.

Friendship Force member Diane Mertens served as one of the volunteer guides. She took first took our group to interpret the two statues below. The top is a famous sculpture of the Emancipation with Lincoln standing over a recently freed slave. The second photo is of a recent addition to the collection titled “Lifting the Veil” that show Frederick Douglass striping Lincoln of his saviorhood. Needless to say, this sculpture is controversial but certainly makes viewers think about the message it sends to viewers.

Diane led us to two other paintings that have a connection to Native Americans and frontier settlers.

The last piece on our tour was a tapestry made by El Anstsui, a native of Ghana. This piece is made of discarded liquor bottle caps and wrappings connected with copper wire. The colors are associated with the tradition “kente,” the colorful textile worn as a symbol of the country. A very intriguing piece indeed.

Terrace at Memorial Union

After the stimulating tour of the art museum, we headed over to the nearby Terrace at the Memorial Union for refreshments. Considered Madison’s front porch, the Terrace sits along the shoreline of Lake Mendota. The students were back in town so the Terrace was crowded but we found a place to sit and absorb the ambience. A nice way to end the day of showing our guest around town.


Epic Systems

We had a little time one afternoon to make the short drive out to the campus of Epic Systems. With about 10,000 employees, Epic builds and maintains a popular medical record software program used by many hospitals and clinics around the world. The business is located on the outskirts of Madison that was once a working farm. The buildings are based on themes like a farm, Harry Potter, the Southwest, and etc. It seems there is always construction going on this very unique and beautiful campus. The main building was open so we spent a few minutes checking out the extensive artwork collection. Next time, we’ll allow more time to further explore the buildings and art works.

National Mustard Museum

The National Mustard Museum in Middleton, a close suburb to Madison, is an interesting place to take visitors. At first they think going to a museum about a condiment is pretty weird. It is, but the extensive collection of mustards from all over the world is quite intriguing, at least for a half hour or so. Entry is free, the only hazard is to leave the gift shop without a bag of mustards. There is a tasting station to temp even the most discerning taste bud. I tried them all, I like most mustards and agree with the founder of the museum that ketchup on a hot dog is a disgrace, mustard only. Anyway, it’s a fun stop on the Madison tour circuit.

That does it for this week. Stay tuned for next week’s episode on making milk and cheese.

Until then, happy travels!